Just a couple of weeks ago I was in Newcastle speaking about my just-released book on the miners’ strike in Nottinghamshire. It was a commemorative event to mark the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike. One rarely needs an excuse to dally in the Toon – great place, great people and great ale – but there was another reason for extending my stay by an extra night. Bob Crow, RMT President and the outstanding trade union leader of his generation, was also speaking the following day. I hadn’t seen Bob since the Durham miners’gala, last summer and, true to form, his speech then was the fiery condemnation of capitalism and unshakeable commitment to his members’ interests and the working class, generally, for which he was renowned and revered. As well as loathed, feared and despised. Like many across the country today, I was deeply saddened and shocked to learn of his passing, via text from a friend in the RMT.
There are few who really fit the cliché, larger than life but Bob did. In all ways. The press would have us believe that he encapsulated the motto of his beloved Millwall, ‘No one likes me, I don’t care.’ Except despite the hard-man persona, he did care. Deeply. About his members and the wider working class.
He was vilified and castigated by the Tory press for doing his job brilliantly; defending and improving his members’ jobs,wages and conditions. They really hate that shit, you know. Working class canon fodder are there purely to soak up, uncomplainingly, the price of the boss class’s greed-driven economic cluster-fuck. Not on Bob’s watch, though. So they attacked his wages instead. Like many of my generation and political tradition, I was weaned on the belief that no working class representative – trade union official, MP, whatever – should take more than the average salary of the workers they represent. Bob didn’t do that, of course, but was not the least shy about defending his position. He felt, with no little justification, that he earned every penny and that if his salary was worked out, in relation to the number of hours he worked, his hourly rate would certainly be far less than his £80K-plus salary would suggest.
Be that as it may, the hypocrisy of those who attacked his earnings is risible. Perhaps if this uppity working class hooligan had lost his organisation billions, plunged the economy into crisis while paying himself a multi-million pound bonus, only to be bailed out by the tax payer, he might have gotten a break and some good press? In contrast to the Eton-educated millionaires who ruined the country, however, Crow was superb at the job to which his members democratically elected him. Again, in contrast to the unelected toff cabal currently driving the nation into the ground, he saw RMT membership leap from 20,000 to 80,000 and his members become the highest-paid section of the working class in London. Payment by results would have seen Crow as one of the richest men in Britain while his arch nemesis, Boris Johnson – a spiteful Thatcherite class warrior in a clown’s mask – begging for change outside a London tube station. Principled, courageous and indomitable, Bob Crow’s passing is undoubtedly a tragedy for his family and friends but that’s not all; his death has robbed the British working class of one its greatest defenders. Wherever you are, comrade; rock on.